AUG 23, 2020 4:51 AM PDT

Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Will be Released in Florida

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

After years of development, testing, and regulatory approvals, a genetically engineered mosquito will be released in Florida. Scientists and officials in Florida have been trying to control the mosquito population there, of which about one percent is Aedes aegypti. That type of mosquito can transmit diseases including Zika and dengue, and the state has already seen cases of those viral infections.

The yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti, taking a bloodmeal./ Credit: CDC - PHIL

The plan is to release 750 million mosquitos in 2021 and 2022. The mosquitoes, called OX5034 were genetically modified by Oxitec, a US company based in Britain. The idea is to control the mosquito population without using insecticides, with a kind of genetic time bomb. Only female mosquitoes bite, so the males have been engineered to carry a protein that is supposed to kill females before they reach the age when they begin to bite.

There have been some successes with the strategy. A version of Aedes aegypti males called  OX513A was released in the Cayman Island in 2010, and wild populations of  Aedes aegypti were subsequently suppressed by an estimated 80 percent. When OX513A Aedes aegypti males were released in a suburb of Juazeiro, Bahia, Brazil, researchers reported that the local Aedes aegypti mosquito population was reduced by 95 percent.

Unsurprisingly, people are extremely concerned with what some have called a 'Jurassic Park' experiment. Environmental organizations are worried that a genetically modified male in the wild could have unknown and unintended consequences, and may harm endangered organisms that feed on mosquitoes.

The permit that was granted by the EPA allowing the release noted that Oxitec must notify state officials 72 hours in advance of any mosquito release and that tests ensuring that females are not reaching adulthood have to be performed for at least ten weeks afterward. If the genetically modified females are found to be surviving to adulthood, the company must stop releasing them and start applying insecticides that can kill larva and adults in areas where the mosquitoes have already been released. That has to continue until OX5034 mosquitoes cannot be identified in the wild population for at least two generations.

There is reason for concern. Over 27 months, 450 thousand OX5034 males were released in Jacobina, Bahia, Brazil. Over time, a strain of mosquito emerged that was a viable hybrid between the natural local population and OX5034. That news was announced in Scientific Reports last September, and it's still unclear how this hybrid strain is impacting the transmission of disease.

Federal approval has also been granted for the release of OX5034 in Texas, but local approval has not yet been given.

In the risk assessment provided to the public by the EPA, there are redactions, suggesting that some aspects of their decision-making process have been kept secret, which unfortunately can raise questions about the nature of the approval process.

Hopefully, the release of the genetically-engineered mosquitoes will be a good thing, as mosquitoes are considered to be the world deadliest animal and are responsible for the transmission of some very serious diseases like malaria.


Sources: BBC, EPA, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
AUG 27, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Understanding How Animals Make Seasonal Adaptations
AUG 27, 2020
Understanding How Animals Make Seasonal Adaptations
Some animals don't need a new wardrobe to change with the seasons, and scientists have now learned more about how they d ...
SEP 06, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Climate Change Caused a Mastodon Migration
SEP 06, 2020
Climate Change Caused a Mastodon Migration
Around 11,000 years ago, megafauna of the earth began to go extinct. Mastodons were some of the largest land animals liv ...
SEP 14, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Cell Line Authentication Using STR Analysis
SEP 14, 2020
Cell Line Authentication Using STR Analysis
Imagine you’re studying colon cancer using a colon cell line model. After three painstaking years of research, you ...
SEP 13, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
RNA Found on the Surface of Human Cells
SEP 13, 2020
RNA Found on the Surface of Human Cells
The surface of a cell carries many features to help it carry out its functions, communicate with other cells, gather inf ...
SEP 18, 2020
Coronavirus
How Coronavirus Spread in the US and Europe
SEP 18, 2020
How Coronavirus Spread in the US and Europe
Researchers are beginning to examine how the world's response to the pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2 went wrong, and right ...
OCT 19, 2020
Plants & Animals
Genetically Engineered Foods Could Alleviate Nutritional Deficiencies
OCT 19, 2020
Genetically Engineered Foods Could Alleviate Nutritional Deficiencies
There are over two billion people around the world that don't get the recommended levels of minerals and vitamins in ...
Loading Comments...